Insert joke about an actor with a big ego here. But no, really, you read the headline right: Are male actors’ heads actually getting bigger with time?
If this sounds like gibberish to you, well, welcome to social media’s latest fixation.
The phenomenon has been noted across both TikTok and Reddit, with many pointing to the differing head sizes of actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, John Travolta and Bradley Cooper. And while it would be hard to get confirmation on whether these stars have bigger craniums than they used to, the possibility of growing a larger head with age has real science behind it.
Yes, that’s right. Many men experience head expansion as they age.
Research by Duke University Adjunct Assistant Professor and Ophthalmologist Michael Richard, of Duke’s Department of Ophthalmology, examined the CT scans of 100 people to determine whether human skulls continue growing. Richard’s research found that certain parts of participants’ heads grew, or at least changed shape, with age.
The research, described in Duke University’s Duke Magazine, found that facial bones, like those of the forehead, tended to grow forward as people aged. Meanwhile, other bones, like cheekbones, tended to move back — which may potentially make the forward growth appear even more apparent.
What’s more, receding hairlines — which many men get as they age — can work to highlight forehead expansion.
Adding to this is natural “structural rearrangements” that happen with age, as explained by Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Publishing outlet. This includes fat in the face becoming less evenly distributed, creating pockets that “plump the forehead, temples, cheeks and areas around the eyes and mouth.”
Harvard also says that ears elongate with age as cartilage inside grows, while noses can droop (and look longer) because the cartilage inside them weakens with the years.
An additional factor in this equation may also be that actors’ heads are big to begin with. In a 1991 piece called “Out of All Proportion,” Washington Post writer Joel Achenbach marveled at the notable size of actors’ heads.
“Why are so many male movie stars kind of short, with big heads?” Achenbach wonders, pointing to stars like Tom Cruise and Robert DeNiro. “This is a Hollywood tradition. Ever since the silent film era, actors have had small bodies with large craniums.”
Achenbach explains there are several reasons why this could be, though most have to do with how actors’ bodies/heads appear on camera. Essentially, big heads fill screens better than little heads.
An interesting find among the research on the topic of male head expansion is the aforementioned Duke University research, which found that face structure changes were actually more dramatic in women. Since male hairlines/faces may be harder to disguise with hairpieces or makeup than female stars’, it’s possible we may just be noticing male actors’ heads more.
Finally, it’s important to remember that all of our heads may grow as we age — and that’s OK. Just tell people it means you’re smarter than you used to be.